Sorry I haven't written for a couple weeks. A men's conference, doctor's visits and recovering from a gall bladder operation set me back a bit. Though, God-willing (Si Dios quiere!) all is resolved! Thanks to those who knew for your notes and prayers.
This week's 'thought' comes to you from Jerry Sittser and is taken from his superb book entitled "The Will of God as a Way of Life." I highly recommend it and can assure you that reading it would be time well spent. The fact that it is so well written, illustrated and applied, made it hard to narrow down the possibilities when it came to which quote I would select to share with you.
Today's selection has to do with the past, regrets, and bitterness -- what they can do to us, and how to move beyond them. And to assure you he's not giving advice as someone who hasn't wrestled with such things, it's helpful to know that his wife Lynda (with whom he states he was "deliriously happy"), his mother Grace and his daughter Diana Jane, were all killed by a drunk driver who jumped lanes and collided with their minivan in 1991. Only he, his two year old son John (who was seriously injured), daughter Catherine (8) and son David (7) survived. His words ring with truth filtered through personal experience. Enjoy.
"There are at least two ways we let our past control us. The first is by living with regrets. No person lives a lifetime without ever making some bad choices... I have my own regrets. I regret wasting my teenage years... I regret working such long hours when I was a pastor. I regret the fights I had with Lynda. I regret the times I have been nasty, sarcastic, and explosive with my kids. I have said words I wish I could take back, and I have committed indiscretions I wish I could forget... But the past is irreversible, like the loss of a precious family heirloom. Deprived of the power to change the past, we resort to reciting a litnany of 'if onlys.' 'If only I had not drunk so much that night,' we mutter to ourselves. 'If only I had checked the tires before leaving on the trip.' 'If only I had waited longer before marrying.'
Yet regret is not the only way our past can control us. Bitterness can do the same thing. Regret usually involves our own bad choices; bitterness usually results from other people's bad choices. It arises when we become acutely aware that we have been wronged. Bitterness can turn the mind into a black hole of anger and revenge from which it is all but impossible to escape. The only thing a bitter person can think about is the hurt caused, the wrong done, the pain inflicted... Bitterness poisons the soul.
A leader of the Warsaw ghetto uprising describes in the documentary film 'Shoah' how he felt about Nazi brutality: 'If you could lick my heart, it would poison you'... Yet there is nothing we can do to change our past. It is as hard as granite, as immovable as a mountain. What is done is done. Regret, bitterness, revenge -- none of these can alter what has already happened. No matter how many times we say, 'if only,' regret we cannot alter our past. No matter how bitterly we brood, blame and accuse, the wrong done to us will remain as it is. No matter how often we rehearse a plot of revenge, we will never be able to reverse the course of events that created our pain in the first place. Regret, bitterness and revenge will only ruin us...
We must learn to move on, regardless of the severity of pain in the past. We cannot change what has happened. Still, we do have one power within our grasp -- we can trust God to redeem the past... But he will require our cooperation. We must be willing to receive his forgiveness, to forgive others, and to wait for God to effect the redemption we long for.
First we must be willing to receive forgiveness... God sent Jesus Christ to deal with the problem of sin once and for all. He promises to forgive and to redeem. But we must be willing to admit our failures, take responsibility for what we have done, and then accept forgiveness. We must be willing to let the past stand as it is, giving up all rights to change it, deny it, or obsess about it. In short we must surrender the past to God...
Second we must forgive... Forgiveness never happens in a moment; sometimes it takes a lifetime. Yet it begins with a decision... we must choose to forgive even if we do not feel like forgiving. Forgiveness, as Lewis Smedes argues in 'Forgive and Forget,' does not whitewash wrongdoing or justify evil. It assumes that the wrong done is truly wrong and deserves judgment and punishment. But forgiveness manifests a willingness to give up to God the right to judge and punish an offender, to see that person as a real human being, and to begin to wish him or her well. Forgiveness does not always restore the relationship, which requires movement from both sides. But it lets the hurt go and moves on. Forgiveness assumes that God is in control, that he will do justice at the proper time, and that he will make all things right in due time.
Thus, even when the relationship is not restored, because the offender doesn't care, or continues to offend, or disappears, or even dies, forgiveness works redemption into the heart of the person who does the forgiving. The act of forgiveness becomes a conduit for God's grace to work in that person. God's grace can work wonders, too, whether or not the offender takes responsibility for the wrongdoing. Grace can heal the soul, form character, create peace, and provide opportunities for ministry. It can transform a person so dramatically that he or she emits, as Paul testifies, a fragrance of life rather than an odor of death."
Most of us are well aware (or can assume by our struggles to forgive lesser things) that nothing is harder than forgiving those who have repeatedly, and often with mean-spirited intentions, hurt or abused us, or those we love. Yet the opposite of forgiveness -- the natural tendency to justify our anger and bitterness, feed resentment and wallow in self-pity -- is the worse option. Initially it feels so good, especially for us who live in a culture that "excels at the art of victimization" (Sittser). But in the end it poisons, numbs and kills the soul. Regardless of the immense difficulties (and they are often intense and seemingly innumerable) nothing is more freeing or liberating to the soul than forgiveness. In fact, nothing is more Christ-like or more in keeping with the will of God for our lives.
With you in the struggle to live out the will of God daily.